by C.M. Galdre
Braxia stood at the window of her room in the Bard and Barter Inn. It was a cool, sweet summer night and the breeze held the scent of tall grass and meadow flowers. The night air was filled with the sounds of the legendary Cinthian cicadas. She watched the night birds play in the moonlight, a cool, white sheet of fine Abraxian cotton wrapped around her nubile form. During the day she would don the regalia of a mercenary, but at night she was at ease with her femininity.
The past few weeks had been some of the best in her life. She remembered the strange events prior to these weeks of bliss, when she had been begging for death at the cruel hands of the red-robed cultists who had captured her as she tried to steal an ancient sword. She could never have imagined that not only would she escape, but that her rescuer would prove to be such a fine companion.
He was young, this bearded warrior who had sundered the iron chains that bound her, but his age belied his prowess. Braxia had fought for many cycles as a hiresword and no warrior she had yet seen fought as this one, this Beard. He had some other hidden talents as well, the thought of which made Braxia’s soft white skin blush pale rose in the moonlight.
Since their escape, he’d never once forced himself upon her as so many men she had met in the past. The others had met her blade, this one she felt at ease around. Beard treated her as an equal and had trusted her skill in combat immediately and without pretense. A strange man in strange times, a man unlike any other.
In the past few weeks, they had amassed a comfortable living by guarding caravans, clearing caves of daemons, and slaying the odd Ongrie terrorizing a village. In the beginning, Braxia had stayed with him because it seemed to be a lucrative partnership. Beard was strong and imposing, a man whose skill and muscle was easy to sell and a convincing negotiator to hire Braxia on with a fair wage as well. Now, however, Braxia’s mind had begun to wander to fields of soft grass, houses on hills, and the laughter of children. Distant laughter. She had never considered a peaceful life before, but now... now things were different.
Everything was perfect, which is why it came as such a surprise that sweet summer night when Beard awoke with a fire in his eyes and sweat dripping from his chest.
“Brōg! Curse thee and thy twisted blade!” he bellowed, his hands clenched with hatred. He looked then at Braxia, naked but for the thin sheet wrapped round her in the moonlight, and called her by a strange name, Vel’Naren.
“No... no, you are not Vel’Naren... she is gone from me, my father is dead, and my name cursed to the dust and crows. All that follow in my tread are doomed to shadow,” he spoke in hushed tones, his voice cracked.
Beard’s rage cooled, his eyes cleared of flame, and he called to Braxia once more, not some strange fey name, but by her own name, Braxia, and she went to him, her troubled warrior. Perhaps things were not perfect, but companions such as Beard are a rare occurrence.
Beard awoke from clouded and troubled dreams. The images were swiftly fading from his mind as sleep left him. The death of his father, a familiar memory, had been there and Brōg too, that cursed traitor. There had been a sword, ancient and mighty as well. He’d seen it in the hands of countless, nameless warriors and each who had held it had been a force of nature in battle. Walls were sundered, calvary leveled, even wild sorceries had fallen beneath its sword bitten and tattered edge.
Tattered Edge, ah yes, that had been its name: a woman had told him to retrieve it, a familiar voice from beyond the twilight realms. How had she called to him? Had it all been a dream? Beard was used to the Dream Lord taunting him and there was much in his past to provide ample material for torment, but this had been different. A brilliant glimpse into his life lived in the twilight, a fleeting star rising and falling in the hours of a single night, a message sent to aid him.
He remembered waking in the night and how he had shamefully called her name, Vel’Naren, to the new lover who now slept beside him. She could not have been too angry for she had not shied from his tender caresses when his mind had cooled, but there was much about women that Beard found to be a mystery. No matter, he would make it up to her somehow. He would have to figure out something on the road, though, for he now had a name and a memory to pursue. Beard was a warrior without a blade and the sword known as Tattered Edge may just be weapon enough for a Thorgithen far from home.
The warrior dressed swiftly and visited the stores of the inn. After gathering adequate provisions to for the journey he bought a cart from the innkeep and an extra horse to pull it. During their time together on the road, Beard and Braxia had traveled light, their only burden being the money they had amassed as hireswords. Beard wasn’t particularly fond of the work, but it paid and he was an exile in a foreign land and, thus, could not afford to be picky. After seeing that the cart was loaded, he returned to his room where he found Braxia dressed and preparing to depart.
“We are going on an ill-fated journey this time.” Beard chose his words carefully. “You may leave now if you wish, there is no profit in this venture.”
“I go where you go,” Braxia replied cooly.
“We may be going to our deaths this time, the road is shadowed with ill portent and bad fortune. I do not wish for you to die on my account... though I would have you by my side until I find my way to the hellgate,” Beard continued.
“I go where you go,” Braxia replied, more warmly this time. Beard saw the determination in her eyes.
“We travel farther south then, in search of the blade the Tattered Edge, for I will have it for my own,” said Beard. “There is more in store for me than a life as a hiresword and I will need a good blade for it, one that doesn’t break whenever I cleave a man in half.”
Beard’s shadowy portents always made Braxia a bit nervous, but her resolve was like iron. “Then we shall find you this blade, o mighty warrior,” she replied with a smirk and kissed him on the cheek, then headed to the stall to ready her horse.
When all three were ready -- Beard, Braxia, and their new horse and cart -- they set off south and a little east, a direction that always spelled ill on the continent of Kytherion. It was often said when battles went ill that they were “swiftly going south.” The two warriors spent their days on the road enjoying each other’s company. By day, Braxia would teach Beard the songs the mercenaries sing upon the road and, by night, Beard would tell her of his youth. He spoke, not of everything, but of his warrior training from birth -- of how he’d been taught to sleep alertly by being woken with a birch switch each morning, of how he’d learned to run, being smeared in boar blood and forced to run from war dogs.
More often then not, Braxia was horrified by Beard’s tales. As a woman of the Southron she had been a coddled child, given only light chores until she she grew old enough to learn a trade. Even as a youth she had been tough as nails, but she still couldn’t imagine any child being able to take a punch until they had lived at least twelve cycles. If Beard’s stories were true, then he had already been proficient with several forms of weaponry by that age. Had she not seen the effects of this training, she would not have believed his tales, but they had been together for some time now and, more than once, she had witnessed Beard killing caravan raiders and thieves in the night without even fully waking from slumber.
Their travel was swift but as the days drew on Beard’s dreams became more fitful. He would awake in the middle of the night, his lips trembling with rage, a hot sweat steaming from his skin. Braxia did not press him, but knew full-well that Beard had true horrors in his memory, horrors that he could contain until sleep sapped away his defenses. Braxia grew in concern for her companion as he became more and more withdrawn each day. His gaze seemed to pass her and all their surroundings, past a thousand iles, and perhaps even time. He seemed to stare through them all, eyes red-rimmed, brow furrowed.
The landscape began to change and Braxia began to fear where they were headed. They had left the sweeping plains of Middle Southron and were heading into the TottenMarsh, an ancient land long-abandoned by the Southron kings. Though, it was said, that a king still held seat in that accursed realm, in the black castle Agrahime his red guard kept a constant vigil for the waking of the dead city below. Aguras, it was called, the city of wights. Few remember the fate that befell the land but none go to Agrahime deep within the TottenMarsh for even the whispered memories are enough to keep the most stalwart at bay.
“Are you sure this is the way to your sword?” Braxia asked, her voice quavering. “This country has been abandoned for an age... surely anything that was here has long rotted and rusted to dust.”
“I would bet my life on it,” Beard replied with a grim smile.
The two continued on in silence as the plains gave way to the marshes, following a road only Beard could see. At night, the marsh was filled with whispers and corpselights floating ever above the waters of the cold black marsh. Before they made camp each night, Beard would place a circle of salt around their campsite and bind their horses’ eyes shut with strips of cloth and then would sleep with his hands bound in saltcloth. Braxia knew not what this meant, but thought it better not to ask. On their third night in the marsh, Braxia woke in the middle of the night and stifled the scream growing within her chest for the vision that she saw. All around the marsh, dead eyes stared at their camp from the waters. Slick, white corpses with their milky eyes just above the water focused upon Beard and Braxia. Every so often, a body would make its way towards the camp, its alabaster hands reaching out until it touched the air above the salt ring. A small snap would echo in the air like the popping of a fire and the thing would draw back, its hand singed, and walk backwards into the murky waters from whence it came its dead eyes ever watchful.
Braxia did not sleep the rest of that third night.
“Why the hell didn’t you tell me about those things?” Braxia screamed whilst pointing into the empty marsh, the sun rising in the distance.
“I thought the less you knew the better. I didn’t want you to bolt and end up in danger. We have been in the marsh for longer than you realize. Perhaps you have seen the marsh for a few days, but we have actually been here for around two weeks already,” Beard replied.
“Impossible, we only crossed from the plains a few days ago. Remember? I asked you if we were going the right way.”
“You know little of corpsecraft.”
“What in the nine hells does that have to do with anything?”
“Corpsecraft is the magic of the dead. You know how the feyfolk have their glamour with which they bewitch mortals? You have told me all about them in your folk songs -- elves that tricked men into eating dirt and dung for their amusement, satyrs that appeared as strapping young men to seduce young women only to transform back into goatmen mid coitus.”
“Yes, but that is all fairytale, myth, stories to scare children and young maidens.”
“The dead have a similar art, though more subtle and never used for amusement. I tell you we have been in the Marsh for thirteen days already, but it was only in the past few that you and the horses started to see what the dead let you. Simply put, we are too far in now for them to need to maintain the illusion. If anything, it would be beneficial if we panicked and ran right into their waiting hands.”
“How did you know salt would repel them?”
“It was... an educated guess. In the North, we have creatures called ice wights -- men that died starving in the cold often turn into them. Salt is the best method for defense.”
Braxia reflected on Beard’s words in disbelief.
“And what of the Salt cloth? If a ring of salt stops them, why wear it upon your hands each night?” Braxia asked, regaining some of her composure.
“Some are stronger, some are hungrier. The ring is not impenetrable,” Beard replied simply.
Braxia slept very little for the next few days. When she could, she slept in the saddle, trusting her horse to follow Beard’s. Her nights were haunted with the sounds of ghoulish fingers being singed in the dark. Luckily, she did not suffer long for on the fourth day after her grim discovery, they arrived upon the doorstep of Aguras.
Before the two warriors stood a ruined arch and, beyond that, a ruined city covered in marsh-vines and moss. The stone was soft and spongy and crumbled at the slightest touch, but the bones of a grand city were there, ancient and proud. Beard marched their little caravan through the massive central road from which the city spread out on both sides, the castle Agrahime ahead at its center. The architecture was different than the ruins found around the rest of Southron, the columns thicker, the buildings less fair. The whole place felt as if it was laid out in military fashion, a city of function instead of vanity with its fortress-keep at the center. There were black pools all around where the foundations of the buildings had been claimed by the grim swamp and it was here the corpselights danced through empty halls and beneath crumbling arches. A splash echoed in the distance and Braxia jumped at the sound. Beard set a heavy hand upon her shoulder.
“Do you know the story of this city? I imagine it has been lost here or never properly told, but in the North, we tell its tale on stormy nights when the fire burns low and blue and all gather around it to tell geist and ghoul tales. It is a tale passed down beyond remembrance. The tale of the lost tribe of Thorgithe,” said Beard. Braxia, a fan of ghost stories, relaxed to listen to his tale.
“In the age long past…” Beard began “when Turin waged war upon the free peoples of Krytherion, there were two brothers, Kgortel and Kgoreth, who were the greatest warriors the North had ever known. It was a savage time when the fires of war burned across the entire continent, when the Northmen rode wolves into battle against Turin and his engines of war and the sky was filled with the screaming of drake and dragon, eagle and falcon, and all were feasted upon by the carrion crows. In those desperate times, only the barbarian Thorgithens of the North, lead by the brothers Kgortel and Kgoreth, were a threat to Turin’s army and for seven cycles he had been waging an unsuccessful war against them.
It looked as if the Thorgithens would out last them, but inn the last hours of the seventh cycle, Turin made a desperate move. On the fields before the North, Turin raised an army such as the world had never seen, an army ten million men strong, on foot and on horse, and with them such siege weapons never before and never since seen. They were weapons of destruction so large that they were called ‘hurlers of mountains’ for the size of the stones they shot could only be quarried from the solid granite sides of the Stormback Mountains. With his army mustered, Turin let loose upon the North, concentrating his attack in a deadly and dangerous wedge driving between the brothers’ armies. The toll Turin paid was great, but his gamble had worked: the brothers had been separated. But it cost Turin the war.
When his forces routed Kgoreth’s army, driving them into the South, the rage that came upon Kgortel was immeasurable. The warrior-king thought his brother dead and the ancient blood-fury came upon him. With his twin double-headed axes in each hand, he rode his black wolf, Uthgerion, straight into the heart of Turin’s forces, cleaving as he went. His men followed in his bloody wake and the blood-fury quickened its spread. Soon, Turin’s army was being crushed beneath the heels of blood-mad northmen.
In a panic, Turin turned to his greatest mages and bayed them to work magick to stop his rampaging foes. The wizards knew of but one way to stop the massacre and allow Turin’s remaining forces to retreat. They called upon Amar, the dark night god of the desert lands from which the wizards of Turin came, and Amar answered.
The field of battle erupted with a deafening sound like the sundering of the world and the raising of mountains and all upon the field cowered beneath its resounding tone. When the ringing in their ears subsided, they heard the deep laughter of Amar echoing through the sky as he returned to his abyssal plain. All eyes fell upon the center of the field where a glimmering wall of smokey, ethereal stone split the continent into North and South beneath which a full fourth of Turin’s retreating army lay crushed and dead.
The Grand Wizard of the Temple of Amar the Obsidian channeled his dark god and spoke with an oracle’s tone:
‘For each stone I have laid in mystic binding, should you be a black stone finding, for in one cycle for each stone unset, I shall take a lithe body to repay the debt.
At these words his fellow wizards groaned, for the hunger of Amar for the exotic beauties of their desert lands was legend and Amar rarely returned them whole or sane. Such a demand would swiftly empty the kingdom of its women.
So it was that Turin was forced to build a wall in black stone to make permanent the one the dark god Amar had made.
It is said by some that Kgoreth lived, driven into the South by Turin’s forces and the rising of the wall. Some speculated that he built a great fortress city in the East and founded a barbarian nation right under the noses of Turin and his southern nobles. Of that I can speak little, but I do know this: Kgoreth was called Kgoreth the Red for his sanguine appearance and his personal guard all wore leathers and robes of crimson into battle. When word came to the North many decades later of a great warrior-city called Aguras with a fortress named Agrahime at its center, the legend grew that it was a city of the decedents of Kgoreth for Aguras means ‘the red city’ and Agrahime ‘the red fort’ in the ancient Thorgithen tongue.”
Beard paused for dramatic effect at the end of his tale. Braxia looked puzzled.
“I know it is just a legend, but how is that possible?” Braxia asked. “Your lineage and your legends don’t match up. You said to me once that you were the great-great-grandson of Kgortel which would make Kgoreth your great-great-grand uncle or something... either way there can only be, what, 160 cycles of lifespan to be shared in those generations? These ruins and these tales took place in a time beyond remembrance, century upon century ago. Perhaps you are a son of that line, but at this point, all of Thorgithe should be descended in some way from Kgortel.”
“I tell you a tale where a black god is summoned from the darkness and builds a continent-dividing wall in a heart beat and the part that troubles you is that which lines up with my lineage?” Beard laughed. “Men of the North were not as weak then as they are now. Kgortel was called King for a thousand cycles before he had a son. He did not want to start a family until he deemed himself unable to take an active part in war. And yet, even after his son was born, he fought in the War of the Storm Drakes, drove the Barrow Kings deep into the Godspire, and slew the last of the ice giants before death took him.”
“What finally took him, old age?” Braxia scoffed.
“No,” Beard replied, his voice flickering with anger. “He died upon the iron spike of the Isenshrike... or so the story goes. After his death, the line of the North grew weaker as if in fear that their strength would attract the fiend. In truth, only the shadow of the memory of Kgortel truly keeps the Southron nations from crossing the wall these days. The men of the North have forgotten much. The blood-madness appears less and less in the younger generations and we’ve lost our ability to speak with and ride the dire wolves and must settle for half-breed war dogs as our hunting pets. Now I, the last son of the line of Kgortel, roam the southern lands as a traitor and an outcast.”
Beard sank into a sullen silence and Braxia turned away to watch the road, regretting her jest. In the misty distance ahead of them, a massive door was coming into view: they had reached the castle Agrahime at last.
“My lord, two travelers have come to the gate. One hails as a son of Thorgithe, the other a mercenary of Southron ilk. What say you?” the voice of the Messenger of the Gate rang out into the hall as he bowed his proud head before his noble lord.
The Messenger was dressed all in red irons, his armor polished to a mirror finish. His tunic, as crimson as fresh blood, was spotless and lined with gold embroidery. Upon his chest he bore the symbol of the noble lord he served, a golden eagle over a white mountain. The torches that lit the great stone hall flickered in the wind as his master spoke.
“Borland, Messenger of the Gate, hear the words of your lord,” the lord’s deep and throaty voice resounded as he spoke. “If he is a true son like the seven that have come before, then sound the Ghoul Horn and let him show his lineage.” His orders given, the old lord’s voice collapsed into a fit of phlegmy coughs that echoed into the rafters hidden high above the torchlight.
Borland nodded and left the hall, his guards all in red following him. They walked down an causeway that lead to a large circular stone platform from which the path lead off in the four cardinal directions. At the center of the platform was a great twisting horn formed from bronze and intricately carved from bell to mouthpiece with a depiction of wave upon wave of restless dead surging upon a single warrior. Borland placed his lips upon the silver mouthpiece and blew a mighty blast. The sound vibrated through the instrument and then echoed out like the bellow of an elk into the dead city. The sound still ringing his ears, Borland and his soldiers marched off to the gate just in time to hear the first howling shrieks of the awakened wights as they shambled towards the unsuspecting travelers below.
“They have been gone too long,” Beard growled. “This waiting makes me uneasy. I sense some type of trickery at work.” Beard paced back and forth before the gate. “Braxia, unsheathe your sword and make ready for combat.”
Braxia did as her barbarian lover bayed and readied her sword, twirling it to get its feel, then stretched and warmed her muscles. Beard unbridled the horses and led them behind a fallen pillar by the gate. He did not tie them, but made sure they were guarded on three sides for if they spooked, he hoped to use their flailing hooves as a deathtrap before which they could drive their foes. The warrior paused and considered their terrain for a moment then flipped their cart over to face the swamp-taken city and lit several torches, laying them round in a half-circle fanning out from the door at their backs.
“You think the assault will come from the marsh then?” Braxia shivered as she spoke.
“I do,” came Beard’s grim reply.
“Why do you not form a circle of salt then as you have before against such horrors or do you think the danger comes from men?” Braxia asked, her eyes now darting between the dark pools of the surrounding city.
“I have not enough to make a circle large or strong enough for the assault I feel is coming. The barrel lies near the horses, so if we are hard-pressed, we can flee to it and toss handfuls to cause breaks in the assault,” Beard replied whilst winding his hands in saltcloth. “We will keep a tight formation. Always keep me or the gate at your back. If you fall to danger, call and I shall come. If you feel yourself overwhelmed, fall back to the horses, but call out before you do so, so that I may move with you. If their eyes glow, aim for them... if not, then work to sever the spine or ligaments for, although they are bewitched and unnatural, their sinews still function according to the laws of nature, just without pain or fatigue.”
“This is the most instruction you have ever given before a battle. Do you truly think there will be so many and that the danger is so great?” Braxia asked, the hint of fear growing in her voice.
“I think, depending on how many there are, if you follow my instructions and the salt and horses hold out, we may live to die of exhaustion before being torn to shreds. My cousin Yorgrim died that way. It was glorious. He died on his feet with his spear still in his hands, his heart exploded in his chest. The ice wights had to climb up ten feet of their own re-slain to where he stood before they could feast upon him,” Beard replied gruffly with a grin.
Braxia stood mouth agape, agast at her lover’s reply, but whatever words were forming upon her lips were lost in the blasting sound of a mighty horn being sounded within the city and a chorus answered from within the dead bones of the city the dauntless call of shrieking hungering wights.
“BEARD!” Braxia screamed.
For the past hour, the two warriors had been fighting back-to-back to stave off the horde of slavering wights, but as the time had passed, so had Braxia’s strength waned and now she lay on the ancient cobbles before the door of Agrahime, a wight pinning her to the ground and tearing savagely at her delicate face. She was protected only by her battered arms, her sword torn away in the struggle. Beard crushed in his fists the rotted skulls of the two wights he was fighting and began fighting his way towards Braxia.
They had, up until a few minutes ago, been fighting as a close-knit duo, always protecting the other’s back. Beard cursed himself for not seeing that his partner’s strength had been waning. Now half a dozen wights lay between him and Braxia.
Two more wights fell beneath Beard’s saltcloth-wrapped fists. Braxia screamed with pain, a second wight had begun to gnaw on her foot. She had kicked away half its face, but the part that remained was gnawing on a chunk of bloody flesh it had torn from Braxia’s ankle. Beard barreled through the wights that remained between his wounded comrade and himself. It seemed to those that observed the battle on the wall that the creatures had burst apart as Beard passed, but a trained eye could see the death that had formed of Beard’s fists. The wight pinning Braxia down fell limply to the ground as its head flew through the air and brained two more wights before smashing into a crumbling wall.
Braxia was already killing the one on her foot by the time Beard had shifted his weight to strike the second -- she had grappled it by the neck and, with the ferocity of a she lion, tore the spine right out from the creature’s neck with her bare hands.
Beard dragged Braxia to where the horses were nestled in their corner of behoved death. Their haunches were covered in the gore of dead wights slain beneath the horses’ kicking hooves, the fate of any foolish wight who wandered too close. It was, perhaps, the safest place in the vicinity for the horses still recognized their allies and masters even when driven mad with fear. They held their hooves still as Beard hoisted Braxia upon her mount’s back. Then the warrior took handfuls of salt from the barrel nearby and pelted it at the rushing wights, scattering them for a time. The Thorgithen worked swiftly in the moments he had bought and wetted a wool blanket cast aside by their upturned cart, rolling it in the salt before throwing it over the back of the horses and Braxia.
“Should I fall in battle, use the horses to ride out through the horde and back the way they we came. The horses should remember the way. Hold tight,” Beard barked beneath the blanket and then was gone.
Braxia struggled to maintain consciousness, her blood leaking swiftly from her open wounds. She could hear Beard raising hell outside. She saw him grab something from his belt and rub it over his hands before dipping them in oil and lighting them on fire. He took a strange fighting stance and then all was a blur of fists and burning wights.
The wounded mercenaries vision grew dimmer. Did she hear some men call down from the wall? The horses had stopped kicking away flaming wights and she could feel the vibration of the massive gate doors of Agrahime opening. She heard some more shouting from inside and then came a bright flash and a mighty thunderclap that left a ringing in her ears and the smell of rotten eggs burning in her nose. Braxia’s vision faded with her consciousness into darkness, the the last image she saw burned into her mind, the body of Beard lying still on the ground.
The air was still and cool and smelled of dust and old moldy tomes with just a hint of acidity. Braxia woke slowly. She was dressed in new clothing and laid upon a musty wooden bed, her wounds tended to. Braxia sat up and examined her leg to find that she was not missing flesh around her ankle and wondered at this marvel. When Beard had dragged her up onto the back of her horse, she remembered watching her foot dragging behind, ghoul-gnawed and hanging on by skin and sinew.
Where is Beard? she wondered.
“‘Where am I?’ would be the smarter question warrior-maiden,” a voice sounded from the door.
“What trickery is this?” Braxia spat. “Is this some figment of my dying mind or am I healed and in the care of a mind-reading devil?”
“It would seem the latter,” the voice replied cooly. An older woman, perhaps in her forties with greying hair and a fair face entered the room. “I do read minds, but I do not take kindly to being called a devil. Besides, is that any way to treat one who rebuilt your foot from scratch?”
“Where am I?” Braxia asked.
“Oh! Now you are asking the right questions,” the woman replied. “You are in The Tower of Art and Alchemy of Agrahime. I am apprentice alchemist Lanépeer FellElm at your service, though most call me Lane.”
Braxia eyed Lane suspiciously. “And who is your master?”
“The Alchemist,” Lane replied bluntly. “But in truth I am the only one left in this tower and the only one in the city left with any medical skill.” Her voice seemed to trail, as if it was losing its way in the past.
“Where is my companion? The great beast of a man I was with. He goes by the name Beard,” Braxia asked as she steadied and tried to stand on her leg. She had mixed emotions about how normal it was and how sturdy it felt, as if nothing had ever happened to it.
“He was taken before the king. Apparently, he was a kinsman and they had much to discuss.” Lane replied.
Braxia shook her head in disbelief. “Oh? He is well then? Last I saw, he was face down on the stones outside the gate and all hell was breaking loose around him.”
“Ah, yes. He was ducking as the Hellmouths were fired upon the wight horde.”
“Hellmouths... one of the Alchemists inventions. It fires salt and brimstone at your enemies. It is extremely effective against the horde,” Lane explained.
Braxia had seen things called “ballistas” being traded in the eastern ports and a demonstration of one during her training -- she imagined the Hellmouths must be something similar.
“Why were we rescued when it was the city that turned the wights against us?” she asked.
“The one you called Beard proved himself to be a kinsman to the king. Something about the way he fought after he placed you on the horse.The lord has welcomed him like a brother. I am told they are related,” Lane replied.
Braxia shook her head. “Oh, is this lord of yours some descendant of Kgoreth?” Braxia laughed.
“Lord Kgoreth the Red is and has been the lord of this city and castle since the diaspora,” Lane replied seriously.
“You must be joking,” Braxia laughed. “He would be...”
“Something like two thousand three hundred and seventy three cycles old. Yes, his birthday was three days ago,” Lane cut her off. “You will learn, young maiden, that little here is as it seems and you would be wise to keep your tongue civil and your ignorance to yourself. The lord has a hatred for Southlanders that is older than most nations and a few gods.”
Lane excused herself to tend to some other patients, leaving Braxia alone in the tower. Free to investigate, Braxia began taking in her surroundings and paced around the room, testing the strength of her foot (it still felt eerily normal). The room was filled with an assortment of books, most of which had titles Braxia couldn’t read, as well as hundreds of intricate instruments in various states of decay.
Hundreds of bottles lined the walls, those of every size and shape and color of glass and content. Without even considering it, Braxia pulled a rather ubiquitous-looking bottle from a middle shelf, dusted it off, and placed it in her bag of belongings that she found at the side of the bed before slinging the bag over her shoulder gently and heading down the long spiral stair. Lane’s words echoed in Braxia’s mind as she went. As she passed the many windows that dotted the tower, she noted that, despite it being midday, there was very little activity within the fortress. Soldiers all in red dotted the walls and the raised pathways that lead around the city, but she didn’t see any activity at the ground level of the fort. The houses of the soldiers, the fortress markets and squares; none showed any signs of use whatsoever. The tower, too, was strange. Room after room that Braxia passed were empty, some even boarded up, while still others had signs that said “Enter Not”.
Braxia entered one of the smaller empty rooms. There was a table and an overturned chair and a fine layer of dust all around. There were three doors coming off the small room besides its entrance to the spiral stair. The first was just closed, but when she tried the door, it wouldn’t budge... it opened inward, but there seemed to be something against the door on the other side keeping it from moving. When the door moved just a fraction inward, a small wind escaped with a strong cloying odor. Braxia imagined that the ceiling must have caved in and let in the rain and elements and moved on to the next door. The second had been boarded up at one time, the broken boards still nailed into the frame, but the room was relatively empty. There were some sullen rags in the corner and some other refuse about the room, but it looked as if it had been recently cleaned. The floor appeared to have been stained with some chemical spills, but other than that it was unremarkable. The third room was entirely boarded up and Braxia, with all her strength, could not get a board to budge as they seemed fixed by enchantment. She rapped upon the door a few times before heading back to the stair. As Braxia turned the corner and the doorway left sight, a strange sound came from the room she had left, a slow scratching like a hound at a door and a muffled whine. Or was it a moan? Either way it gave Braxia quite a fright, but she convinced herself that her meddling had simply shifted some debris in the room that didn’t fall until she left. Braxia did not enter any other rooms as she descended the tower at an increased pace: the sooner she got to Beard’s side the better.
The tower opened up to an open battlement that connected it to the central keep. The battlement was empty save for a few crows bickering within the crenels. As Braxia crossed the open divide, she looked out over the inner city below. High in the tower, Braxia had assumed she simply couldn’t see the people or activity at that height, but now that she was closer she, saw that there was no activity to be seen. The buildings were largely all boarded up and those that remained open were free of any human occupation. Braxia quickened her pace once more for there was something very wrong here and Braxia wanted to get away from the place as quickly as possible. If only she could find Beard.
Braxia reached the main door to which the battlement path had lead, but it was locked and when she knocked, none answered. There were a few paths off to the sides of the door so Braxia took off down the nearest one and, after a few minutes of searching, she found a door that would let her inside the keep. Just as she was about to enter, however, she heard some shouting from the men in red along one of the other battlements. A few moments later, more men joined them. bringing bows and arrows, which they started firing into the street below. Braxia’s curiosity overwhelmed her desire to see Beard and, so, made off to see at what they were shooting. As Braxia got closer to the red warriors, she began to feel anxious and a strong desire to remain hidden from them rose in her heart. Her instincts proved right for; as she drew close, hugging the wall opposite the men and hiding behind discarded provisions barrels, she could hear the men’s conversation.
“Did you see the look on his face when we brought him into the hall? I thought he was going to go into a fit right there. Amazing he kept his composure for so long,” one man said.
“Oi, and the gall of him strutten in, demanding to know where that Southron wench was taken, then asken his lordship to relinquish the Tattered Edge,” said another.
“Well, he is kin by right, that’s obvious, you can see it in his face. It’s the way of the North that a guest in a kinsmen’s house may ask for whatever he wishes. Why shouldn’t he have asked for the sword?” asked yet another.
“We ain’t exactly in the North anymore are we, eh lads?” said one with a rather greasy voice.
“Doubt any of our fathers, nor our fathers’ fathers remember what it was like up in the old homeland. Besides, our kind woulda been slain up there at birth... left for dead on the stone bier in some damn rite. Barbarians they is.”
It was at this distance that Braxia could see that many of the men appeared to be the results of kin-marriage. She had seen it before in a few of the small towns she had passed through in her travels -- small communities intermarrying till everyone is related to everyone else a few times over. The one man in the group that didn’t look like the others remained silent. He, at least, reminded Braxia of the grim Northmen she had met in her travels as well as reminding her a bit of Beard. She hadn’t even seen him flinch until the last man’s comment was made and now his eyes turned to the other guards with a look Braxia couldn’t quite place. It could have been rage, or, perhaps, loathing... maybe a bit of each.
“I have grown tired of your slandering,” the grim man said. The men who had been talking suddenly acted like they were surprised he was there and those shooting arrows suddenly stopped. “I think,” the man continued. “I should have done this cycles ago.”
The men on the wall began to tremble and the grim man’s eyes turned an icy, glowing blue. With only that as a warning, the stern warrior with the glowing eyes attacked his comrades. His blade was as swift as Beard’s, as elegant in its arc, but there was hatred behind each swing and his swipes marred the men cruelly as they were slain. Braxia pitched herself over the wall during the slaughter, hoping to remain hidden with just her fingertips holding her onto the ledge, this was not a man to start a fight with.
The fight was over quickly, but Braxia was still a bit woozy from her loss of blood and recovery. She hadn’t heard the man leave yet and was beginning to lose her grip on the wall. She held out valiantly, her mercenary sinews growing tight and hard with the strain but holding firm. The old wall, however, was not up to the task. The stone crumbled beneath her fingers and Braxia fell to the city below.
Braxia closed her eyes as she fell, but opened them slowly when she realized she was still falling and had not hit anything yet... in fact, she was barely falling at all. Holding her like a princess was the grim, blue-eyed warrior. Braxia resisted the urge to panic as the two of them floated safely to the ground. The warrior set her down gently.
“I am sorry you had to see that. Things are... not as they seem around here,” the man said, his voice far kinder than it was to the men he had just slain.
“Yeah, I am starting to see that. Lane said that too,” Braxia replied.
“Yes, she is the one who saved you from being... well, she saved you from a horrific fate, one I fear your friend may soon suffer if we do not hurry,” the phantom warrior replied.
“What do you mean?” Braxia asked, but as she spoke the warrior pointed to that which the inbreds had been firing upon, Beard was crawling through the street with a dozen arrows sticking from his back, his eyes staring wild-eyed in every direction.
“I do not think he will die for he is made of stronger stuff, but he needs to be tended to. Soon my treachery will be made apparent and I have much to do now that I have made a move. He has been drugged for sport and needs water more than anything. Quickly now, whilst I stand guard!” the man’s eyes flared with bright blue fire as he spoke.
Braxia rushed to Beard’s side and pulled the cruel arrows from his back. They were not deep, but they were many. Braxia saw that Beard still had his sacred supply of smoked dire wolf fat with him and she smeared it across his bleeding back to help to stop the bleeding and protect the wounds.
“Drink... I need drink,” Beard gasped, his mouth wet with drool and froth from the drugs coursing through his veins.
Braxia frantically grabbed the nearest bottle in her bag and gave it to Beard and he drank it lustily.
“NO, YOU FOOL!” A voice boomed behind her. Suddenly the blazing blue-eyed warrior was between them. He pushed Braxia aside and struck the bottle from Beard’s hands. It crashed upon the street stones and burst into a thousand pieces, leaving only a small splattering of liquid. “DAMN!” the man said, defeated.
Beard collapsed briefly then slowly rose to his feet.
“What? What have I done? I just gave him something to drink. See? He is doing better,” said Braxia pointing to Beard who was now flexing his limbs.
“No, you have robbed him of true death! You have made him like us! And yet...” the blue-eyed man paused. “He did not die, so perhaps he will be different. Perhaps it will affect him differently.”
“BRŌG YOU COWARD, COME AND FIGHT ME!” Beard bellowed suddenly, his eyes glowing faintly blue.
“You have done a terrible thing, but I don’t have time to explain,” the blue-eyed man began to speak very quickly and kept checking over his shoulders as he did so. “I had hoped to cause a diversion to help you escape with your wounded friend, but things have changed. You will need to come with me now for it’s not safe for you to travel with him in this state. However, he can be put to use. Quickly now, we must run for the throne room!”
The man took hold of Beard’s wrist and pulled him down the street towards the main hall with Braxia swiftly following after. As they ran, Braxia began to see what was wrong with the city, the true things that were wrong all around. Within the boarded buildings, hungering wights could be seen still dressed in the clothes they wore in life, gripping, pulling, grasping at the enchanted boards that kept them prisoner. In some buildings, in the shadows deep inside, Braxia saw freed wights feasting upon a corpse of some inbred soldier or citizen who was rapidly turning into a wight themselves. There was blood in the streets, evidence of hundreds of footprints converging on a single spot where only smeared red brown stain remained. Once a small child approached them from an alley, Braxia was about to aid her until she saw its milk white eyes and that the doll it held was a decaying hand. Braxia looked to the warrior with blazing eyes.
“What... what are you? You are not a wight, but you are not a man or are a man no longer... and yet you aid us,” Braxia spoke between panting breaths.
“My name was Brumund. I was once a man of Thorgithe, part of the army of Kgoreth. I am what some might call a revenant now. I aid you because I remember what I once was,” Brumund replied cooly. “I suppose now that you know, I can remove my raiment.”
Braxia knew not of what Brumund spoke, but watched as he swept his arm through the air as if removing an unseen cloak. Then suddenly before her, leading Beard with a boney grip, was a figure eight feet tall with a body of red iron plate mail and skeletal hands. Where a head once was, there was now merely a helm empty save for the blazing blue eyes of fire within. A tattered crimson cloak was wrapped round the figure’s shoulders, clasped by a single gold brooch in the shape of an eagle. Braxia was in awe, but did not fear him: he seemed to radiate with a vengeance, yes, but one filled with righteous fury.
Just ahead, a group of the howling city wights suddenly rushed out of the alleyways, blocking their path forward. Braxia began looking for a route to escape, but Brumund seemed to have alternate plans. His long boney hand curled out in front of him as if he was gathering the group in his palm. Then, his arm shivering and emanating a strange anti-light, a darkness that blurred with the edges of reality, he made a fist as if he was crushing a nut in his palm. All at once, the wights blocking their path burst from unseen wounds, as if a thousand swords had passed through them, their black, coagulated blood spraying through the air. Brumund, Beard, and Braxia rushed through the re-dead corpses and, with a similar dark motion (but this time pushing forward with his palm), Brumund willed the doors of the great hall -- the throne room of Kgoreth -- to burst inwards. The trio rushed inside.
The throne room of Kgoreth was long and dark. The torches that lined the walls burned with an unearthly green hue and all around stood revenants like Brumund. They all looked similar with their burning eyes and burnished red plate, but there were some minor differences in each. Some had horned helms and visors, others had spiked pauldrons or a segmented cuirass, while still others held weapons of unusual size and deadliness, great curved swords and axes, morning-stars and maces. The room was filled with a vast array of crimson reapers, but upon the throne, clad in black and red, was the most fearsome figure of all. There sat Kgoreth in the battle gear he wore in life, red and stained in blood, his cloak of black with black wolf fur trim, his irons of burnished red. And in his hand, he held the sword known as Tattered Edge. The blade was of curious design, a pattern of an earlier age than even the time of Kgoreth’s life. It was long and leaf-shaped near the tip, the metal banded in dark swirls from the ancient make of its temper, and all along the edges were chips and cracks from its ages of use... and, yet, the Tattered Edge was not a sword that could be broken. No, it was a sword that could fell any foe, blunted blade or no.
Brumund ushered Beard into the center of the room and shouted in a voice that sounded like a thunderclap in a mountain range.
“I bring forth a challenger to the throne of the Lord of Agrahime. His reign ends! For one of Kgortel’s line has come seeking that which is his right to claim.”
“Nonsense!” Kgoreth screamed. “I am the lord of this land in life, and in its eternal undeath, all shall yield to my name and my power.”
“It is your arrogance that will twice be your unmaking,” replied Brumund.
“Warriors, to me! Repel this upstart and his unsavory company!” Kgoreth cried, but none took up his cause.
“My Lord,” a rather well-kept revenant spoke up, “we of the lesser house of Kgoreth recognize the challengers claim.”
One by one the Revenants in red turned their back on their undying lord and thus voted for trial by combat. Kgoreth cursed and swore upon the throne before reluctantly stepping down to the main floor to prepare for battle. Beard’s eyes burned pale blue now and his entire body was rigid and quivering with the anticipation of battle. Brumund conjured an etherial blade from thin air and placed it in Beard’s awaiting hands.
“Do not let it take you entirely,” he whispered in Beard’s ear and, at this, Beard seemed to gain some of his warrior composure.
Brumund took Braxia by the hand and rushed headlong for one of the small passages that lead off from the hall. A sudden gust of wind blew up and a swirl of black smoke billowed up between the two and the door. From the black smoke formed Kgoreth, grinning, his sword drawn.
“The Southron wench cannot leave. She shall be fed to the children of the city,” Kgoreth spat.
Swiftly the court of Revenants took action, clashing with their king, forcing him aside and allowing Brumund and Braxia to pass, their weapons flickering dangerously in the green torchlight.
“I shall not forget this treachery when this is done,” Kgoreth shouted before returning to the center of the room, boxed in by his former guards.
In the passageway Brumund and Braxia made for a small stair that was one of the few places in the city that seemed to get some use. Braxia gave a furtive glance back to the throne room, then disappeared with Brumund into the gloom within the stairwell.
In the Hall of Kgoreth, Beard began to regain some of his senses, though his eyes burned with visions of the past. Kgoreth looked like Brōg, Brōg turned into Kgoreth... all was spinning in fire and blood and hatred. Beard could feel the weight of the spectral sword in his hand -- it was all that mattered. The feel of the blade comforted him.
Kgoreth began to circle Beard and Beard followed him into the deadly dance. Beard struck first with a sweeping upward swing with all the power of his steely thews behind it. Kgoreth blocked, but the force of the blow took him two steps back. The infuriated lord struck out against Beard with furious, artless strokes. Even in his haze, Beard dodged them easily. The young Thorgithen moved to the attack once more, sweeping in and out of the circle of death that formed around the undying lord in red. A clash of blades, a deadly thrust, then an overpowering downward slice. Kgoreth was pushed back once more.
Enraged, Kgorteth became surrounded in a black light-drinking flame that drained even the red color from his mail. He became a creature of darkness and shadow. With ancient blade in hand, he began to strike Beard with the same wild strokes as before. However, even as Beard dodged them easily, he began bleed from ruptured wounds appearing all over his body. The revenant king struck down hard with the Tattered Edge and Beard was forced to to check it with his own blade. Though he stopped Kgoreth’s sword’s advance, Beard’s body erupted in a torrent of blood from fresh injuries that appeared all over his sinewy form. Beard’s vision faded and it seemed that he would fall at last, but suddenly Kgoreth drew back.
Beard seemed to lose consciousness, but something was changing in his body, keeping him on his feet. Etherial smoke leaked from his mouth and nostrils, his eyes blazed brighter blue with an unearthly fire, and even his fighting stance changed slightly. Kgoreth slashed with his blade and it tore across Beard’s chest, but the warrior took no heed of his injury and struck a thrust right into Kgoreths unguarded shape. The spectral blade sunk deep inside Kgoreths un-body and he suddenly fell to his knees. The fallen lord growled and howled with pain, and suddenly it was as if the very air vibrated and shook, and the spectral blade shattered into a thousand pieces, taking Kgoreth with it.
Beard stood, his body fighting even while consciousness was absent. If he had waking eyes to see, he would have seen the black reaper forming again on the other side of the room, changed once more, and all the revenants in the hall whispered their contempt, for Kgoreth had transformed into a wraith.
Braxia did her best to keep pace with her revenant guide. They were moving swiftly now into the very bowls of Agrahime keep. She had difficulty running over the slippery limestone stairs whilst Brumund simply glided above them. The tunnel was long and ancient, turning every thirty feet or so in a long rectangular corkscrew diving deep beneath the earth. The walls dripped with seeping swamp water from above and filled the air with the rank smell of watery decay.
Deep within the belly of Agrahime; seven warriors waited. Seven men who had escaped the north through the Eastwood, seven men, part of the legendary thirteen, that had stood by Beard and believed him to be falsely labeled traitor, seven men who could help Beard and Braxia escape this cursed land, lay rotting, locked within the dungeon.
After their narrow escape from the North, the seven had found a hidden valley near the Wall of Turin in which they settled their families. Duty bound, they left their families and set out to find Beard or aid his cause. Beard would be the rallying of the true men of Thorgithe, the tip of the blade used to reclaim their homelands from the Eastwood and the Council of Free Men that had caused the seven’s flight in the first place. Their journey led them to find Kgoreth’s decedents and, perhaps, establish a place of power in Southron. But before they had realized Kgoreth’s true nature, they had already been taken captive and made prisoners who would be either eaten by the horde or hunted for sport. Beard’s arrival to the TottenMarsh had saved them, though they did not know what delayed their captor’s hand. The Lord of Agrahime had many spies and had long known of Beard’s coming.
Why wait till Beard arrived to kill them? Why not use their corpses to break their noble exiled king? Perhaps he wished to break the men of Thorgithe with the body of Beard. The seven hung there heads and waited, they knew not what the undying Lord of Agrahime was playing at, but they knew one thing: If the dead are anything, it is patient.
Though… there was one now rushing towards them that seemed to be in a very great hurry.
Brumund arrived before the vault, brimming with amaranthine power. The revenant burst open the door to the seven’s cell and as each warrior rose the revenant smashed their bounds setting them free.
“Go sons of the storm!” he shouted.
Metal slag burst from the chains as the revenant struck.
“Go lords of the sword!”
The revenants eyes burned with fierce vengeance setting his kinsmen free.
“Go blood of the hammer!”
The warriors felt an ancient stirring within their blood, the rallying cry of the north was being called.
“Go fathers of war!”
The revenants blade sundered the last of the shackles and chain.
“Go warriors of Thorgithe! Your king fights a deadly battle and, should he live, there is yet another trial for the living to pass. Go now!” Brummond growled, the warriors rushing past him, spectral blades forming in their hands from their shattered chains, true blades of vengeance wrought by a spirit who knew it true, keen blades for deadly warriors.
Brummond turned to Braxia, his eyes dimming, his form fading. “I fear I have given up too much of myself to see the end, but hopefully now the deed will be done and the souls of this dead city made free to rest.” The revenant wheezed and his form shuddered in and out of existence. “Should you live, set fire to this keep three times and then stab the blade I give you within the flames, Aguras and Agrahime must burn into ash and memory. Please.”
Brumund removed his golden eagle clasp and handed it to Braxia, his entire body quivered shook as it black un-light grew around his burning form. Slowly he faded away into nothingness, leaving only an ornate spectral dagger in his stead. Braxia picked up the blade, warm to the touch, she could feel its urgency, its need, it hungered for the end. Braxia ran like the wind to be at the side of her lover.
The floor of the great hall of Kgoreth was covered in slick, red blood and black flaming embers of shadow. Beard breathed heavily, billowing spectral smoke from his lungs with each breath. Kgoreth showed difficulty in maintaining his shadow black wraith form and was little more than a burning shadow. The undying king could barely lift the great sword he held.
“You are more formidable than I imagined,” the old lord panted, his ghostly form flickering in and out of existence.
“This is the first time I have had true difficulty in a fight,” Beard replied. “I am honored.” The battle seemed to have sobered the warrior. He stood tall, his body dripping with his own red blood, a broken spectral blade in his hand. Beard walked over to the flickering shadow that had retreated to the throne and was attempting even now to lift the ancient blade, the Tattered Edge. Beard reached out and ripped the blade from Kgoreth’s grip and placed it upon his shoulder like a logger carrying his axe.
“Mercy!” Kgoreth cried.
“I have none,” Beard replied.
Down the ancient blade fell, cleaving the wraith of Kgoreth in half.
The seven of Thorgithe burst into the throne room in time to see the sword fall against the wraith. Braxia rushed in shortly after and found Beard grinning and holding the blade, his body a grisly mess of blood and raw meat.
“My Lord,” the warriors said in unison, bowing to their exiled king.
Beard motioned them to rise just as the remaining revenants turned to face him. Beard readied his blade, but the shadowy warriors each bowed in turn and, as they did, faded into memory. The ground rumbled and the walls shook, the keep began to fall apart, held together only by the power of Kgoreth’s curse, with his death there was nothing to guard the stones from the ages. The nine companions ran with all their might, just managing to stumble out of the crumbling hall before the walls caved in a thundering crash.
When the dust cleared and the rumbling ceased, all around was calm swamp and ruined city. The warriors looked at each other with relief as eight horses appeared trotting towards them down the cities center road. The horses appeared to be lead by a spectral hand. Braxia and Beards mounts were there as well as their cart horse, but only five of those brought by the seven warriors of Thorgithe were in attendance.
“Let us hurry and be rid of this place,” Beard ordered. “If we hurry we may find the missing horses.”
“They will not be found for we lost them in the journey here. They were carried off by the wights the night before we reached the gate. It is a miracle that any have survived at all,” one of the seven piped up. Beard remembered him as Oinar the Axe.
“Oinar, my brother, then I shall go on foot and two may ride my steed,” said Beard. But Oinar refused and so did each of the others: none would take the horse of their king.
As the warriors argued their traveling arrangements, they did not notice the gleaming eyes peering at them from the rubble of Agrahime or those that shimmered from the pools of Aguras.
Braxia was more vigilant than the rest. In horror she saw the hungering wights swiftly surrounding the troup, drawn by the sound of the keep’s collapse. The warriors ceased their bickering and a calm realization overcame them -- this would not be a fight they could get out of alive. The wights began to howl and the warriors set their teeth and prepared for the coming foe. As the slavering creatures began to crawl more bravely towards the intrepid group a wild wind from far to the North blew in and landed amongst the warriors. In the midst of the nine stood Ierremod the Wild, god-wolf of the wild wind and nurse-brother to Beard, his mighty gusts hurling the encroaching wights aside.
“Warriors of the North, your day has come! “the god-wolf growled. The wind blew wildly about Ierremod, for that is where he got his name, and over the sounds of its howling he delivered his edict. “I come with tidings of a grim future, though a glimmer of hope remains. I come to fulfill a pact with my brother, Beard, on our mother’s behalf, but I owe no such fealty to any other. I come to offer aid in this time of need and, though I may fall with you in battle, so shall it be that I will give my life so that my brother may live.”
“We may be able to break through the line if we had more mounts, but any on foot or on an incumbered steed will surly fall to the horde. We must either ride out together or fall together here,” argued Oinar.
Ierremod pondered these words then spoke again.
“There was a time when the men of the North rode wolves into battle. Today is a red day, a glory day, a day of death and blades!” The wolf’s eyes gleamed as he spoke, ancient memories awakening within him. “So shall it be that a King of the North shall ride on wolf’s back once more.”
Beard bowed to the god-wolf and the great beast bowed to him in turn allowing Beard to climb up onto his back.
“But we are still a mount short!” cried Braxia, nervously watching as the horde regrouped and began to advance once more.
“FOOL!” Ierremod bellowed “Do not think so little of your betters for I am no mere wolf or steed. Be honored that you have Beard’s smell on you for I shall carry you as well.” And with that, the great wolf gripped Braxia’s tunic in his teeth.
“Wait!” Braxia cried. “I have something I must do first.”
Ierremod released his grip upon the woman who set swiftly to hold her oath true to Brumund. In three places, where there were beams for burning, she set a blaze and at their epicenter she built a small pyre. Pausing briefly to withdraw the dagger given to her by Brumund from her belt, she smiled madly and drove its curious edge deep into the flame.
Small lights appeared all over the ruined city where the sympathetic magic of Brumund’s dagger set fire to ancient beams. The city of wights burst in to flames, and the howls of its residence rent the air.
Before the flames billowing out of the dagger could burn her, Braxia was gripped by Ierremod and thrown across his back as the seven warriors mounted their horses and formed a line.
The ragged warriors slowly marched towards the encroaching wights, their weapons out, fire before them, an inferno at their backs. Ierremod let out a blood curdling howl and the line of Thorgithe’s finest warriors galloped into the endless ranks of the dead.
Braxia stirred the campfire as it began to grow low then rubbed at the bandaged nub where her left hand had once been. Beard groaned in the firelight, his body glistening with wounds, his organs peaking through his skin where the horde had torn his flesh away. Ierremod laid close to his nurse-brother, licking his own wounds and mumbling to himself.
“What are you reciting?” Braxia asked.
“I am composing a poem, Song of the Seven. It would normally fall to their brethren or lord, but as Beard is in no state for composing prose, I do it in his stead,” the god-wolf replied. “I see.” said Braxia, trying to choke back her tears.
She could not imagine trying to put the events that had taken place into words -- the rending of flesh, the tearing of bodies. They had died heroic deaths and had allowed their king to escape, but if Beard was to be believed, the legacy of the true warriors of the North died with them, as they were men of an earlier, nobler age. They had died for their exiled king so shortly after finding him. It was almost too much for the Southron mercenary woman to bare.
“You will have to recite it for me when it is done,” Braxia whispered, her voice hoarse and tired. “It will be done shortly, if you can wait,” the wolf replied.
Braxia stared at Beard’s wounds. They should have killed him, he should’ve died, he should’ve been dead two dozen times, but there he was, sleeping as if they were scratches hardly worth noticing. She had seen him wounded before, but this was different. He had changed. He was no longer a normal man.
“He will heal with time,” Ierremod spoke up as if reading Braxia’s mind. “You have done a terrible thing robbing a Thorgithen warrior of a noble death for now that honor is unattainable to him. But...” the wolf paused. “It was necessary. I feel that fate guided your hand when you gave him the blood of the First Revenant.”
“What the hell was that even doing in that tower?” Braxia mumbled. “It was an accident... I wasn’t even